The MPSSAA, in aligning to MSDE’s Maryland Together: Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education, envisions that interscholastic athletics will be reimagined as each LSS determines the needs for their locale. In order to successfully administer a safe, education-based athletics program during the current COVID-19 pandemic, the MPSSAA recognizes that there will be varying degrees of participation across sports and geographic areas of the state. There are three possible states of athletic activities, based on the guidance of MPSSAA, each LSS, and local and state health departments. These states incorporate instructional decisions, social distancing requirements, size of gatherings, transportation, and many other factors that would be deemed locally necessary to administer interscholastic athletic activities. The three states are as follows:
Cancellation of All Activities
Cancellation of all athletics and activities may take place in various geographic areas or statewide at any given time based on local and state health department decisions. LSSs should be prepared for interruptions to athletic schedules and operations during the course of a season.
Modified and Gradual Resumption and Administration of Athletic and Activities
Modified and gradual resumption and administration of athletics and activities are aligned with the Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery stages one and two and with the instructional options found within Maryland Together: Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education. The MPSSAA envisions LSSs to operate within the modified and gradual resumption until reaching stage three of the Governor’s recovery efforts.
Within stages one and two of the Governor’s recovery plan there will be segmented approaches for gradual resumption and administration of athletics and activities. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes the segmented approach through a risk assessment.
- Lowest Risk: Performing skill-building drills or conditioning at home, alone or with family members.
- Increasing Risk: Summer out-of-season school-based open conditioning, exercise, weight training, and non-sport specific student gatherings/In-Season Team Based Practices
- More Risk: Within-team competition.
- Even More Risk: Full competition between teams from the same local geographic area.
- Highest Risk: Full competition between teams from different geographic areas.
The health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, event staff, spectators, and officials is of paramount importance to the MPSSAA. Guidance in conjunction with medical experts and athletic administrators will be developed to fully implement the staged approach. Schools must be mindful that different sports could be operating at different risk assessment levels. Each sport carries its own risk based on the ability of social distancing to be maintained, indoor versus outdoor participation, duration of contact, face-to-face contact, and shared equipment.
Full Resumption and Administration of Activities
Full resumption and administration of athletics and activities coincides with the Governor’s stage three, which includes the resumption of large scale events and LSSs engaging students at full capacity and functionality. The MPSSAA will issue additional detailed guidance periodically, as deemed necessary by the state’s movement toward phase three and schools operating under a new modified sense of normalcy.
SEASONAL PLANNING AND PREPARATION
Planning in advance and establishing dates and timelines has been a hallmark of the MPSSAA and LSS interscholastic athletics programs. The entire MPSSAA community for generations has set their cyclical calendar to evolve around first practice dates, first play dates, and state championships. The MPSSAA recognizes that this calendar notion needs to be reimagined given the unknown in this instance and instituting best practices to avoid COVID-19 spread. LSS athletics programs and stakeholders are encouraged to embrace the notion that the safe return of interscholastic athletics will need to be administered on an incremental basis, using the latest national, state, and local health recommendations and operational procedures.
As schools reopen and considerations are made to meet the needs of current health and safety standards, including social distancing, face mask coverings, and size of gathering, the following are some options for instituting participation opportunities:
- Team-based and skill development practices with no competition for extended periods of time.
- Intra-school competitions utilizing multiple varsity teams or intramurals. Examples include limits on roster sizes and the creation of multiple teams.
- Competition confined to a set number of schools in the same geographic area. Multiple competitions against the same schools may take place within this scenario.
- Modifications of seasonal schedules.
- City/County/Conference competition only.
- Modified culminating events, tournaments, or invitational events.
The MPSSAA is committed to providing guidance and recommendations to assist all interscholastic athletics’ stakeholder groups with recovery from the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MPSSAA has been working with the heads of athletics from all 24 LSSs, the MPSSAA Medical Advisory Committee, and a cohort of sports medicine and pediatric infectious diseases professionals from the University of Maryland Medical System, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Medstar Health, and Lifebridge Health as well as contributors from U.S. Lacrosse and the Maryland Athletic Trainers Association to provide recommendations as it relates to the resocialization of high school sports and physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MPSSAA has created an update page on www.mpssaa.org. This page will focus on the latest information on the stage of the Maryland Recovery Plan, size of gatherings allowed by state ordered guidance, up-to-date resources for implementation of athletic practices and contests, expectation dates, and other pertinent information to assist and direct LSS in the return of interscholastic athletics. This page will also serve for continued resources related to the preparation, preseason, participation, and postseason phases.
On June 23, 2020, the Maryland State Board of Education approved a request of waiver to certain regulations for the specific use of LSS navigating delayed, modified, or interruptions during the course of the 2020-2021 academic year. These regulations, at the request of the MPSSAA and local Superintendent of Schools, will give the LSS the flexibility to navigate county COVID-19 restrictions and administer interscholastic athletic opportunities based on local conditions.
MPSSAA member schools are reminded these waiver requests have been identified for specific purposes to assist schools related to delayed or modified instructional decisions. MPSSAA member schools are expected to be in full compliance with COMAR 13A.06.03 unless specific needs arise that require LSS to implement plans with the flexibility found in the waiver requests.
Please note the following important points regarding the waiver requests.
- As MPSSAA members, the LSS agrees to institute schedules that adhere to defined practice and seasonal structure based on MPSSAA decisions. The MPSSAA maintains authority on defining sport seasons. The waiver request provides flexibility for athletic administrators to modify in-season sport schedules related to increased or decreased participation opportunities.
- MPSSAA does not seek a waiver of the requirements for B(1)(a) through (q) for seasonal and weekly limitations for the number of contests allowed per school athletic team and student participation during the course of a season. MPSSAA member schools in any scheduling must adhere to the seasonal and weekly limitations on the number of contests.
- As MPSSAA members, the LSS agree to institute a set out-of-season practice time frame per sport before operating any out-of-season practices and obtain approval from the MPSSAA Executive Director for the out-of-season practice time frame. These requests must be school system based requests through the LSS administrator for interscholastic athletics and be directly related to specific purposes regarding the LSS response to COVID-19. The intent of the out-of-season regulation waiver is for the specific purpose of LSS operating participation opportunities within an intra-school setting for an extended period of time or for the reconditioning of the deconditioned athlete.
- MPSSAA member schools must continue to follow all regulations regarding sanctioning. The waiver request gives the MPSSAA office flexibility in approving sanction requests after deadlines.
LSS COVID-19 RETURN TO PLAY CONSIDERATIONS
Since District Athletic Administrators in each LSS are the well-respected voices for safety issues involving interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities, the MPSSAA strongly urges that these individuals engage with their local authorities and health departments to develop coordinated policies and procedures with positive approaches for the return of interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities, the other half of education.
LSS RETURN TO PLAY TEAM
An LSS Return to Play Team should consider the following as members:
- Superintendent - Designee
- School District Athletic Administrator(s)
- Principal Representative
- System Health Coordinator/Nurse
- Sports Medicine/Primary Care Provider
- LSS Risk Management
- LSS Operation/Facility Managers
- Lead Athletic Trainer
- Athletic Director Representative
- Coach Representatives
- Open communication with local health department